China: End Arbitrary Detention Against Sex Workers

(Beijing, December 10, 2013) The Chinese government is arbitrarily detaining sex workers through a flawed government policy purportedly aimed at education and rehabilitation, Asia Catalyst said in a new report released today. The report,“Custody and Education”: Arbitrary Detention for Female Sex Workers in China documents excessive use of force by police in the detention of female sex workers, as well as the women’s subsequent incarceration in the little-known “Custody and Education (C&E)” system.

Asia Catalyst research found that under the C&E system, sex workers and clients are deprived of their freedom for long periods of time with no genuine right to challenge the decision or external safeguards. Public security organs have full control over the decision, execution and supervision of C&E, which authorizes officials to detain sex workers and their clients for a period of six months to two years, without  trial or judicial oversight.

“Sex workers face widespread discrimination and stigma which has enabled this arbitrary detention with little public outcry or a genuine means for redress,” said Charmain Mohamed, Executive Director of Asia Catalyst. “C&E is a punitive measure that does little to improve the education or health of these women.”

Asia Catalyst and two partner organizations interviewed 30 female sex workers and one law enforcement officer in Northern China from December 2012 to July 2013. Interviewees reported experiencing physical violence at the hands of police, including use of force to extract confessions. Police officers also extorted large amounts of money in exchange for the release of detained women, imposing a heavy economic burden on sex workers and their families.

Yi, a sex worker who was put into a C&E center for serving a client told Asia Catalyst: “I think it’s all for money. Any talk of remolding or ideological education is bogus. It’s just a way of extorting money in the name of the government and the law enforcement organs.”

Asia Catalyst also found that detainees inside the Custody and Education centers had to pay for their stay, including for health treatment and services, at costs much higher than outside. Women were subjected to compulsory STD testing, without being informed of the results or access to adequate counseling. There were few opportunities for education, with detainees forced to conduct long-hours of manual labor without compensation.

“Internationally, there is no evidence that facilities such as C&E centers are conducive to the health or medical treatment of detainees, nor do they provide effective care or protection,” said Mohamed. “In fact, the international community has reached a consensus that decriminalization of sex work, with access to rights-based and community-based services is the way to go.”

The Chinese government announced last month it would abolish the Re-education Through Labour (RTL) system but is allowing the similar “Custody and Education” centers for female sex workers and clients to continue to operate.

“The abolishment of RTL shows the government’s commitment to protect human rights and its ability to do so,” said Mohamed. “They should further demonstrate this commitment  by closing down the C&E centers immediately.”

The report is available in English and Chinese.

Selected testimonies from ‘Custody and Education’: Arbitrary Detention for Female Sex Workers in China“:

The names and identifying details of all interviewees have been withheld to protect their safety. All names of sex workers used in the report are pseudonyms.

“You have to pay for everything inside, and things cost triple what they do outside. You have to be rich to be in prison; otherwise you can’t afford to be there. Your family has to come up with the money. I spent more than 10,000 yuan (US $1639) in half a year.”

– Xiao Lan, December 26 ,2012

“The center I was in took on all kinds of jobs: wrapping disposable chopsticks, peeling garlic for dumpling shops, cutting rubber strips to mend tires… What kind of custody and education is this? It’s nothing but forced labor.

– Yi, January 15,2013

“When the police came in they pulled off the client’s pants and saw he was still wearing a condom. The police tore my clothes to expose my breasts and then photographed me with the client.”

–  Lingling, March 16, 2013

“Several [police]men ganged up on beating me. Some hit my head, some my body, and some pulled my hair. One yelled, “Fuck you, you shameless thing!” They beat me for at least ten minutes.”

– Hong, April 20,2013

For further information, please contact:

In New York: Charmain Mohamed, Asia Catalyst Executive Director +1 646 595 6442 (English)

In Beijing: Tingting Shen, Asia Catalyst Advocacy Director +86 152 101 02437 (English and Chinese)

Leave a Reply